Playing more than one character

So, Josh wrote this:

And I realized I had thoughts.

We all know the usual thing, as Josh lays out: everyone around the table plays one character, and the GM plays literally everyone else in the world. Then along come games like Wraith: the Oblivion and others and they say “hey, maybe you can play two characters: yours, and the voice in the head of someone else’s”. And then games like Apocalypse World say “how about you just get another character to play, as an advance, but I guess don’t play both sides of a conversation if you can help it, that’s boring”.

And and and. Obviously lots of games push at this question. Because we’re not on a stage having to do quick costume changes, or on screen having to keep things clear to the audience, but all around the table just doing voices or whatever, we can play as many characters as we like.

I just love the idea of playing more than one character, having more than one character who’s yours, but there are two big things I’ve noticed in my time playing around with it that I think are worth writing down:

  1. It incurs a cognitive burden. Each character past the first takes away from your ability to fully inhabit each, and give them the time and space to really be main characters. That burden is on the GM, too, if there still is one!
  2. It is best when you don’t play both sides of a conversation, and so you want to have a set of characters who largely aren’t entangled with each other.

On point one: If a lot of playing an RPG is making space for your friends to have fun showing what they think is cool about their characters, then giving everyone more characters gives you more chance to do that, but also requires everyone to, at the same time, make more space.

On point two: I think that if you want to have everyone play a bunch of characters, find where the shear lines are, or to put it another way, what the clusters are, and have folks each have characters inside each cluster. Like, if we have an English country manor type game, have everyone play someone from Upstairs and someone from Downstairs (and maybe from the village, and and).

Finally: if you’ll allow me a moment of linguistical self-entertainment, I have heard “playing one character” called “character monogamy”, and playing many “character non-monogamy” and I hate these terms; you’re not marrying a character. So, borrowing from the Greek for “mask”, and thus “role”, I humbly submit: monoprosopony and polyprosopony. (In both, stress on the antepenult.)